M&A Communications: Start Planning Early

By Hillary Kelbick

You’ve gone through the due diligence. You’ve made a deal. You’re acquiring another bank. Congratulations! The press release goes out, the announcement is made, and now what? Chances are, it could be months before all the approvals are received and the closing occurs—and then months or even longer before the systems conversion happens. So why should marketing even begin to think about customer communications this early?

Here are a few steps you should take right at the start that will go a long way toward creating the best customer experience and optimizing the positive effects of your acquisition:

1. Get a team in place. Line up your internal resources to build a smart team to lead the overall integration effort. Start with representation from stakeholders throughout the bank, including executive management, operations, IT, legal, compliance, product, brand and of course marketing.

2. Establish an internal process for gathering information, reviews and approvals. Set up sub-teams and reporting processes to keep everyone informed every step of the way. Consider regularly scheduled meetings to identify and address issues.

3. Plan out the timing of the merger events. Even though you can only estimate when the regulatory approvals will be received, it’s important to be able to align resources with communications events. Especially when it comes to the systems conversion, you need to allow enough time for the data team to assess systems requirements, the product team to evaluate and determine mapping, and the legal team to compile and update all the requisite disclosure documents.

4. Begin assessing communications needs. Based on the timing of the merger events, and the estimated length of time between each event, think about digital tactics (such as banners on both bank’s home pages and landing pages with FAQs), direct mail and emails to select customer groups. You should also build a social media plan across the channels currently in use, and consider other channels as well. And don’t forget about communications to your own customers, employees and centers of influence. It’s essential to plan for a well-orchestrated stream of communications to avoid too much “noise” while keeping your constituents informed.

5. Build your story. Looking globally at the big picture, what are the key advantages and new capabilities your acquired customers will gain? What are the cultural similarities and differences between the two organizations? What do you want the market and your acquired customers to know about you? With consideration of your different audiences, establish the key points you want to make, and ensure they are used consistently across all internal and external communications. Defining your positioning up front goes a long way toward getting the maximum return on your acquisition investment.

6. Evaluate your brand. Will you be adjusting your brand for the new combined entity? Are you developing a new brand? Are you retaining any brand elements or key brand attributes from the acquired bank? When should you start introducing your new brand? Starting early gives you the time you need to explore options, fine-tune and adapt your brand to best reflect your identity post-merger.

7. Consider external resources. Even if you’re a serial acquirer and have merger communications experience, you should think about how external marketing partners can enhance your ability to plan, develop and implement a rock-solid customer communications plan to support your merger. You’re making a big investment in the acquisition….it’s smart business to capitalize on that investment with smart, efficient, effective communications. Decide up front if you can go it alone or if your capabilities, your capacity and your prior experience warrant the support of an outside partner. Remember that regular business-as-usual efforts often continue on a parallel path to the merger activities—so the use of additional resources to support your “in-house” marketing and communications team is an important consideration.

Starting merger communications planning early is critical to the success of the overall effort. It would take decades of organic growth to acquire as many customers at once as you do in an acquisition. So it makes perfect sense to marshal your resources and think ahead as soon as the deal is announced. You’ll avoid mistakes, while creating the best customer experience and your best chance at maximum retention and future relationship building. Then get ready for the ride.

Hillary Kelbick is president of MKP communications inc., a New York-based agency specializing in financial services marketing and merger communications.